Tacoma – home of reluctant celebrities

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

I’ve often thought that Tacoma would be the ideal place for celebrities to live a relatively glitz-free “normal” life free from paparazzi and celebrity stalkers.

I still think it is largely true.

For the most part, people in Tacoma like to be left alone, and for most of us, being a celebrity is not that big of a deal. If any of us wanted to be, let alone meet, a celebrity, we all know better than to stay in Tacoma.

Celebrity, as we all know,  is to be claimed or sought in the celebrity centers like New York, LA or London – or at least Seattle.

Many “famous” people have made their home in Tacoma – not all of them voluntarily.

Some, like Richard Brautigan, were born here, others, like Dashiell Hammett were hospitalized here. And others, like Charles Manson, were incarcerated here (McNeil Island). Manson’s son, with his mother, lived in Tacoma several years while he (the son) attended local schools.

Neko Case speaks, or at least sings, of Tacoma, albeit reluctantly.

Richard Brautigan’s poetry and novels were surreal and sarcastic, creative and insightful in a way perhaps unique to those from Tacoma. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, editor of City Lights Books (San Francisco) said of him, “As an editor I was always waiting for Richard to grow up as a writer. It seems to me he was essentially a naïf, and I don’t think he cultivated that childishness, I think it came naturally. It was like he was much more in tune with the trout in America than with people.”

Doesn’t that sound like a typical flannel and denim Tacoma person?

Charles Manson was a petty thief until he spent time at McNeil Island. While he was there he learned to play guitar and encountered New Age ideas. Yes, this was the early 1960s. He too, left Tacoma a different person than he started.

A generation earlier, Dashiell Hammett found inspiration for the proto-type of the dark, drizzly noir novel with the curmudgeonly crumpled detective moving ever more deeply into the unknown and nearly indecipherable mystery of mixed human motives, muddled misunderstandings and deep and darker suspicions.

Many of our most successful companies (from Weyerhaeuser to Russell, Atlas Foundry, Nalley’s and many more)  fold up, sell or leave – and more successful individuals who counted Tacoma as home (from Kurt Cobain, Buck Owens, Darren McGavin and Richard Brautigan, and many more) do their best to minimize the impact Tacoma had on them.

Maybe they want to protect the anonymity and sense of community they remember in Tacoma.

But then again, you might call it hometown plausible deniability.

Over the years I have heard of celebrities who have made Tacoma their (semi-permanent) home. I have not confirmed this or run into any of them, but if they have established a home here with the intention of achieving anonymity, this is further proof of how possible that would be.

If I were with an organization like Move-to-Tacoma, (http://www.movetotacoma.com/) celebrities would be my intended audience. Tacoma has multiple semi-secluded (not necessarily gated) communities, and many more in nearby outlying areas like Lakewood, Sumner and Gig Harbor; many with stunning views and immediate access to major transportation hubs like Sea-Tac, I-5 and the Port of Tacoma.

Pierce County doesn’t need pretentious gated communities with cute names – our terrain and local native history takes care of that for us.

We don’t need to market our views of mountains, islands or water – these one-of-a-kind vistas sell themselves.

Our neighborhoods don’t need cutesy names – like “brook” when there is no brook, “vista” when there is no view, and “forest” or “woods” in honor of the once thriving forest currently paved over and converted to shopping centers and strip malls.

Lots of people describe Tacoma as “gritty.”

Some love, resent or even hate that term.

I don’t care that much for it, but I do think it speaks to a central theme of Tacoma; we don’t have anything to prove. We just are who we are.

Most people who have no ties to Tacoma have left, most of those who crave success have moved on to greener pastures in larger cities.

Most of us in Tacoma and Pierce County are content with the size, pace and possibilities here.

We can go to Seattle if we want to. We can go to the mountains or beaches when we need to.

There are lots of things Tacoma does not have. I’d like to see a lot more small, independent businesses and affordable spaces for entrepreneurs and local artists and creators of all types, for example.

We do have great parks, excellent public schools and (mostly) affordable neighborhoods.

But if any of us wanted to live in Seattle, most of us could have moved there years ago – back when it was relatively affordable.

Pierce County has room – both geographically and culturally – for beginners and experimenters – those who would build, explore and develop dreams, designs and visions and turn them into products, industries, and yes, jobs.

With an eye to the future, and a glimpse every now and then of a snow-capped mountain or a sparkling sea, these are the visionaries who make – and keep making – our area, the unique, irreplaceable home that it is.

Graham Kerr, the internationally recognized chef and TV host known as “the galloping gourmet” lived in Tacoma for several years. During that time, I heard him interviewed on a Seattle radio station. Paraphrasing John 1:46 from the Bible, he was asked rhetorically if anything good could come from Tacoma.

His answer was, Yes, absolutely. But we don’t need to brag about it. We don’t have anything to prove.

Photo by Morf Morford

Photo by Morf Morford